Richard Jefferson considered him the NBA’s best big-man shooter not named Dirk Nowitzki.
After facing him in a playoff series, Pat Riley said, "If he gets much better, he’s going to be one of the better players in this league.”
And Jason Kidd called him the best big man he had ever played with.
In 2006, that was the trajectory of Nenad Krstic’s career. But a serious knee injury three days before Christmas altered his future, a major reason the 7-foot center from Serbia is now on the Thunder’s roster.
"People in Oklahoma City probably don’t know how highly thought of he was around the league,” said one Eastern Conference scout. "He was starting to really take off. If he can be that player again, he would be a steal for them.”
The looming question, the scout said, is whether Krstic can return to the form that impressed Riley, Kidd and Jefferson.
Before the injury, Krstic featured an array of inside moves to complement a deadly 17-foot jumper.
After the injury — with the New Jersey Nets and last year with the Oklahoma City Thunder — he often settled for mid-range jumpers that make him invaluable in a pick-and-pop role.
Limited to 46 or less games each of the past three seasons, can Krstic diversify his game like his first 2 1/2 seasons in New Jersey?
"I feel like I’m my old self,” Krstic said. "I’m already two years with no more injuries. My weight is getting down. I want to be 260 pounds. That’s what I was before the injury. Right now, I’m at 265. My body fat percentage is down. I’m close. I feel good.”
Krstic, 26, finished third in the league’s Most Improved Player balloting his second season. Following a strong playoff showing, he continued to improve. He was the Nets’ second leading scorer (16.4) and second leading rebounder (6.8) before the injury.
"He has a little spring to his step this year,” said Thunder teammate Jeff Green. "He helps us on the offensive end by bringing out the bigs, spreading the floor, giving guys an opportunity to drive by. On defense, he’s quicker than a lot of bigs.